Saturday, July 25, 2009

Four Years on ....

Tomorrow, it will be four years to the day. But it does not seem to far back in the past. The day that brought my city to its knees. While the other tragedies that Mumbai has witnessed in the recent past have been far more heinous and barbaric (they were man-made after all), in terms of the casualties and the breadth of people that it affected, there is quite nothing to rival what happened on 26 July 2005. After all, Mumbai received the highest recorded 24-hour rainfall for a metropolitan area in human history. And I vividly recall the day....

In fact, I recall the day before that as well. I had gone out with friends to a dinner party and came back late and crashed. Following morning, I was ready to face a fresh day at work. Outside, there was the typical July shower. One which the city had faced thousands of times before. Outwardly, there was nothing to suggest that the day was going to be any different. People rushed out, caught their daily lifelines (the local trains) and went to work like any other Tuesday. The drizzle continued, slowly increasing in intensity but never ceasing. By early afternoon, as we finished our lunch and got back to work, there were the first indications that this was not the usual monsoon day. The showers refused to subside and suddenly multiplied in intensity. This went out for about a couple of hours. By around 4 pm, offices had started shutting down. We were asked to leave at 4 pm. Even then, people did not anticipate what was in store, since there are always a couple of days like that every monsoon. But as we were leaving, news of a massive traffic jam on the Western Express Highway trickled in (our office is in Santacruz East). With no foreseeable alternative, me and a colleague set out of office on foot. And before we knew it, we were in waist deep water in Vakola (to put things in perspective, when our office closed early a couple of weeks back, the water at the same spot barely covered my toes !!). The highway was a sight to behold. Cars stuck bumper-bumper, abandoned by their owners and pedestrians wading along the divider in waist deep water. As the sun went down, power went out in most areas, giving the surroundings an eerie look. The rain, of course, was relentless. In fact, about three hours later, as we reached Andheri, it was raining so hard that the rain drops started hurting. With all shops closed, it was tough to even get a pack of biscuits. Finally, after nearly five hours of walking through mostly knee-waist high water, I reached home at Goregoan (about 12 km in all). There too, it was a dark reception.

For a city that prides itself on getting back to work the day after any tragedy, Mumbai was completely shut down for two more days. In fact the power in our office was not restored even on Friday, hence we got the rest of the week off. And the tragedy affected everyone, from the rich and famous stuck in their cars (some even lost their lives) and going without power and essential foodstuffs for three days right down to the less-fortunate slum dwellers who watched helplessly as their houses, belongings and their very lives were washed away by Nature's fury. Nearly 1000 people were killed in Mumbai and other areas in Maharashtra on that fateful day. The Mithi River, till then regarded as nothing more than one of the many nallahs that wind their way through the suburbs, suddenly was the center of all attraction. Mumbai's century old drainage system, rather the inability of the authorities to suitably augment it, came in for much flak. Four years down the line, while some things have changed for the better, there is still that lurking fear, exploited to the hilt by the media, in the heart of every Mumbaikar each day the monsoon showers appear heavier than usual: what if today turns out to be another 26/7 ??. All I can answer to that is, if there is ever another 26-7 in the city, then the phrase 'lightning does not strike twice' would have proven false !!.

So what is your 26/7 story ?



Chanakya said...

very well put together! I wasn't in Mumbai then, but have heard horror stories from my colleagues! Hope I don't witness it ever.

Amit Gokhale said...

Yes, it was a horror day !!.. hopefully not to repeat again..

BTW thanks for following my blog !!..

sriram said...

Think ..I was the colleague who left with you that day.